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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

Christmas Letter, 2010

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 3/3/2024
Posted: 12/21/2010
Page Views: 7364
Topics: #Christmas
Blog Entry posted December 21, 2010, in which we attempt to summarize the past year.

Like you, we are stunned at how quickly this year has flown. Can it really be time for the annual Christmas (excuse us, "Holiday") letter already? Well, it is; so without any further ado let's recap what we've been up to.

The population at the household remained constant the first eleven months of the year, for the first time in some time. Michael; myself, Paul; our daughter Jenny and grandson Zachary comprised the humans; while dogs Cirrus and Amber and cats Cassie and Milton rounded up the group. Of course we continued to have frequent visits from son John and his fiancée Rachel, John and Jenny's mother Mary, and our dear friends Barbara and Peter.


The first minutes of 2010 found Michael and Paul at our friend Mike DeMaio's annual Nude Year's Eve party. That's right, we began the year like the New Year's baby…naked.

In the morning we began the year in our traditional way, with a January hike. This year's took us along the Hieroglyphic Trail in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains. Michael returning from Hieroglyphic Canyon.Michael and Paul, Zach, and his friend Josh were the hikers, enjoying perfect weather and a stunning sunset on our return.

On the 14th, our daughter Karen arrived from Virginia to visit; and we made another hike to Hieroglyphic Canyon with her, to celebrate her birthday.

With the 2009 holidays over, Zachary returned to Augusta Ranch Elementary School to finish out fifth grade. His mother, Jenny, has instilled such discipline, that Zach starts his homework each afternoon upon his return from school without even thinking about it. And as a fifth grader, his homework load is considerable.

However, as busy as Zachary is, we still had time for the occasional day out; and closed out January by driving "up the hill" (the Mogollon Rim) north of Payson with Zachary and his friend, Lane, to spend a day playing in the snow.

Lane and Zach armed with snowballs.


Michael wearing his stethoscope, with Dr. Joni Olehausen, Dean of Medical Education.

Michael wearing his stethoscope, with Dr. Joni Olehausen, Dean of Medical Education.

February was the month that Michael returned to school to fulfill a life-long dream: That of becoming a medical doctor. This is what he'd been working towards in the last few years of study: All those classes at Mesa Community College, his bachelor's degree from Arizona State University, and finally his acceptance at the Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine to pursue his doctorate in naturopathic medicine.

Zach high kicks to earn his second red belt.

Now, medical school is not a pursuit one takes on lightly. The amount of studying and devotion required by it is almost all-consuming. Before Michael could even consider applying, he needed a commitment from Paul to support his devoting himself to his studies during the next four years, which Paul gladly gave. This support would mostly take the form of Paul's doing additional household chores through the year so that Michael would be able to spend more time studying, a task that occupies more than 40 hours most weeks. In exchange, Paul and the rest of the household would benefit from having the beck-and-call services of a medical student in the house.

It seemed like a fair exchange.

Meanwhile, Zach continued his studies of mixed martial arts, being awarded his second red belt after demonstrating appropriate skills.

Michael's medical school hosted a Research Night that both he and Paul were invited to attend. We got to hear about many new and upcoming medical research projects in which naturopathic doctors are assisting, including exciting new advances in the treatment of HIV/AIDS as well as other difficult diseases.

However, February ended on a note of sadness as Michael's Aunt Vickie died February 27. She had been Michael's paternal Uncle Frank's wife.


In March we had our handyman friend Greg over to replace the old kitchen light fixtures with newer, cleaner ones. And Paul bought and assembled a beautiful oak DVD case for the family room/home theatre.

In addition, we added a China cabinet and a place for the "good" dishes into the dining room. And we bought a new refrigerator and stove for the kitchen, as well as new pool and living room furniture.

Our dining room.

With Michael tied up with studying even most weekends, Paul whiled away the time by camping and touring Arizona, and exploring new photographic techniques. A visit to Mount Lemmon, near Tucson, yielded some photos in "High Dynamic Range".

Mount Lemmon in HDR

Another weekend in March, Jenny, Zach Paul and Zach's friend Lane camped at the El Dorado Hot Spring in Tonopah.

Zach, Jenny and Lane in hot water.


In April, during a break in Michael's medical school schedule, he and Paul went to Hawai'i, specifically, the island of Kaua'i. It was Michael's first trip to Hawai'i and our first trip to the "garden isle" for us both.

Michael and Paul at the seaside. The River Source

While our trip was very thorough, including Waimea Canyon and the west, south and east coasts of the island, we did suffer a minor mishap when Paul swung on a rope over a waterfall and tore his bicep tendon. But it didn't prevent us from enjoying an authentic luau or visiting and photographing any number of exquisite spots.

Meanwhile at home, Jenny left her previous position for a new job as Program Director at The River Source, a holistic alcohol and drug treatment center located in Casa Grande. That makes a heck of a commute, but she plays her tunes and enjoys the ride through the exquisite Central Arizona desert.


Your blogger, rafting.

Michael's Summer I session at SCNM began May 3, pretty much the moment we returned from Hawai'i.

Paul's bad arm.

This past winter was so wet that the Upper Salt River was still running at rafting levels well into May; so Paul went on a two-day expedition down the river. This was just a week after our return from Hawai'i, and Paul's bicep tendon had not yet healed. Nevertheless, the first day of paddling wasn't a problem. It was on the second day, dropping 12 feet into Corkscrew Rapid, that Paul was nearly ejected from the raft and had to be pulled back in—by his bad arm, which re-tore the healing muscle. It looked pretty horrible for several weeks after that, with the result that Paul felt very butch.

On the 19th, Michael and Paul, with our friends Barbara and Peter, attended an amazing concert starring the legendary James Taylor and Carole King. It was encouraging seeing these two, older than any of us, able to get onto and offstage without walkers.

James, Paul, Ann, John

And the weekend after that, Paul flew up to Washington State to assist his dear friend, Ann, in scattering the ashes of her late husband. Despite the somber reason for the visit, Paul had a great time reconnecting with Ann and her now-grown and beautiful daughter Devan, and making new friends as well as exploring that beautiful countryside.

Meanwhile, Zachary had become quite the marksman, with his new air gun (a gift for his 11th birthday) as well as with the bow-and-arrow he'd received earlier. Though he'd never held a rifle before, he hit the target with his first shot.

Guns and roses.


In the first week of June, Zach and I played host to our friend Peter and three young friends of his visiting from Germany as we went to visit Biosphere II, between Phoenix and Tucson.

Peter, Eric, Sylvan, Linus, and Zach/ Clean, Green & Lean

One of Michael's instructors, Dr. Walter Crinnion, autographed a book he had written entitled Clean, Green and Lean, which explains how environmental toxins are what actually make us fat. Paul read the book from cover-to-cover, and in June began seeing Dr. Crinnion's student doctors at the SCNM clinic to be naturopathically detoxed, a process that continues to this day, as the level of toxins tests found in Paul's body was terrifyingly high.

All through the year, Paul had been attempting to keep out of Michael's hair over the weekends in which Michael was devoted to studying. So Paul had made several camping trips to one of his favorite spots, Verde Hot Spring. On the way there, he'd passed an inviting looking swimming spot on Fossil Creek. So, in June, he took Jenny and Zach and Zach's grandmother Mary up to Fossil Creek for some good old-fashioned swimming hole fun.

Zach diving into Fossil Creek. Mary under the bridge.


Paul had promised Zach a serious rafting trip for his birthday in May. This gift was manifested at the beginning of July. Paul and Zach flew to Denver, drove to Glenwood Springs, then rafted the Browns Canyon section of the Arkansas River before returning (by way of a hike at the Garden Of The Gods in Colorado Springs). It was a major trip and both participants enjoyed it thoroughly.

Paul, Kelli and Zach going through a Class III rapid. Paul, Theresa, Jenny, and Luca at the put-in.

On the 18th, we hosted Michael's classmate, Luca, and Luca's wife Theresa, on our first Lower Salt River float of the year. Michael wasn't able to come along, but Jenny and Zach did; and we were rewarded with a visit with the river's resident wild horses, which created a truly special experience for our guests. Luca, who's lived most of his life in Italy, was particularly impressed; while Paul and Jenny were merely reminded why we love living in Central Arizona so much.

Luca surveys the herd past the tops of his Adidas.

Michael's Summer I session ended on the 12th of July, and all this time Paul and Michael had been carpooling in the Ford Expedition, which is a terrific vehicle for camping and hiking but not very fuel efficient for commuting…especially to two different locations. So at the end of July Michael bought himself a 1994 Buick Park Avenue in which to deliver himself to school in style.

Zach tries to monitor our cat, Milton, who checks out Michael's new car.


On the weekend of August 15, Michael and Paul finally got a weekend off and spent it watching the Perseid meteor shower at Verde Hot Spring, where we met our friends Eddie and Carl. The stars were spectacular and of course the company pleasant. And a week later, Paul got really daring and took Zach and his friends Josh and Lakota on a camping trip to Fossil Creek, where we explored various swimming spots and had a great time.

Lakota, Josh and Zach at the Sally May section of Fossil Creek.


Surya at Monument Valley.

Each year Michael and Paul like to give Michael's sister, Surya, a trip as a birthday present. Although her birthday is in July, we usually wind up going on our trip sometime after that as Surya is very busy with her work with the Arizona Bridge to Independent Living, an advocacy group for people with disabilities. However, this year we were able to take her to see Monument Valley, a spot she'd never before visited.

It's a long drive from Phoenix, and although we got as early a start as we could manage, we didn't arrive until sunset. That meant we got to drive around the natural monuments after dark, which in turn allowed Paul to take nighttime photos with his Canon G10 Powershot digital camera.

Monument Valley butte at night. Jenny and Jimmy

Also in September, Jenny began dating her friend Jimmy. We began to see less of her and Zach on weekends as they spent time with Jimmy at firing ranges, go-cart tracks and similar places designed to distract Zach from his favorite video games.

Zach on the firing range: A natural sharpshooter.


Papa Michael and Zach

In October, we switched from Cox Cable TV to Dish Network. That wasn't the most exciting thing to happen all month, but it came close. Our HOA had a picnic which Michael and Paul attended along with Zach.

Still in the Halloween mood, Michael helped decorate a Halloween party held at SCNM and then joined Paul at our friend Gregg Edelman's party at his art gallery, Exposed, in downtown Phoenix where we were entertained by a fabulous drag revue and awesome food.

Celia Putty as Sarah Palin awaiting reprieve.

October also signaled the start of Michael's Fall term at SCNM.

And, of course, we went all out at our house with the decorations, including a cemetery in the the front yard, floating witches, a fog machine, a talking candy box, various dismembered body parts scattered here and there, and Michael in full regalia as…um…well, something scary, anyway.

Michael as a vampire angel. A howling ghost.


The biggest addition in November was a chance meeting that led to a new friend and now member of our household. Jason lived with his partner of 12 years, but through no fault of either one, their relationship was in decline. After a few visits to our household it became clear that Jason liked being with us more than he did his house in Anthem; and we began considering whether we really wanted to keep our guest room empty forever. Jason went camping with the family (and Zach's friend, Tyler) at the hot spring at Tonopah and everyone seemed to like him; so the wheels turned and it was decided Jason would move in with us before Christmas.

Jason, Paul, Tyler, Zach, Mary, Jenny


O Tannenbaum

Which brings us to the current month. With Jason to assist, we've gotten the lights up, and the tree erected. Michael has taken his medical school finals and is awaiting the results; Jenny and Zach and packing to move into a place of their own next year; we are interviewing potential roommates to fill their rooms.

Milton the cat had an incident where he thought it might be interesting to nap in the motor cavity of Michael's car, and is now recovering with a broken paw in a cast.

In short, we are experiencing more than the usual amount of stress and change at this end of 2010 but look joyfully ahead to 2011, where we hope the changes will evolve into even more joy and fulfillment for all of us than we could ever imagine.

And we wish the same for you!